Can warnings on children’s drinks fight obesity?

February 7, 2022 – So you’re at the grocery store and your kid is asking for their favorite soda. But you’re trying to get your family on a healthier path this year. Do you protest first and then give in when the tears flow?

Maybe you feel like crying too. You crave the sugar rush just like they do.

This scenario is far too common for families across the country.

According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, sugary beverages — like juice, soda, decadent lattes, and sports drinks — are the #1 source of calories and added sugars in the American diet. But new research published in the journal PLOS medicine shows that a pictorial warning on your child’s favorite soda or juice box can also influence your purchasing decisions as a parent or caregiver.

The new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that parents were 17% less likely to buy sugary drinks for their children when the drinks had health warnings on the products.

The researchers turned a lab environment into a “mini-market,” and parents were asked to choose a drink and a snack for their children along with a household item (to obscure the purpose of the study).

Some parents were presented with sweetened drinks that had images on the products reflecting type 2 diabetes and heart damage. Others were shown sugary drinks with a barcode label and no image warning.

45% of parents chose sugary drinks for their children when the products didn’t have pictorial warnings, but only 28% of parents chose sugary drinks when pictorial warnings were present.

“When people make decisions about what foods to buy, they juggle dozens of factors like taste, cost, and advertising, and look at many products at once,” said study lead author Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition.

“Showing that warnings can drown out the noise of everything else happening in a grocery store is compelling evidence that they would help reduce the purchase of sugary drinks in the real world.”

Children are particularly prone to consuming too much sugar, largely due to the frequent marketing presentations by companies of pleasant-looking and seemingly “thirst-quenching” sweet drinks.

Beverage packaging can also be misleading.

Fruits and veggies on the front of many kids’ drinks often trick parents into buying what they consider “healthy” options, when those drinks may actually be loaded with sugar, according to a recent study in the journal appetite

Parents often “make the best of the information they have,” so more education about nutrition, such as pictorial warning labels, would make a difference, says Caroline Fausel, a paleo food blogger, podcaster, and author of Prep, Cook, Freeze: A Paleo Cookbook for Meal Planning.

Healthier choices on the rise

The American Beverage Association, an industry trade group, shared the latest steps big companies are taking to reduce Americans’ sugar consumption.

Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Keurig Dr. Pepper joined forces in 2014 to found the Balance Calories Initiative, which aims to reduce beverage calories in the American diet.

Today, almost 60% of all products sold are sugar-free, according to the retail group.

Coca-Cola offers 250 zero-to-low calorie beverages and Keurig Dr. Pepper has 158 products that are 40 calories or less. Pepsi sells 7.5-ounce mini-cans along with various other sizes to encourage portion control.

“Beverage makers are completely transparent about the calories and sugars in our products, and we’re offering more choices with less sugar than ever before,” said William Dermody, vice president of media and public affairs for the American Beverage Association, in a statement.

“We agree that too much sugar is not good for anyone and that clear information about beverages is what is most helpful to consumers.”

Other big companies are also taking steps to lower the sugar content in their products.

Kraft Heinz, the company behind the popular Capri Sun beverage, has publicly shared its efforts to increase the nutritional value of its products.

The company has set a goal of eliminating 60 million pounds of sugar in Kraft Heinz products worldwide by 2025.

“As more people become more aware of the damage that excess sugar can do to the body, I hope they continue to make healthier choices,” says Fausel.

Creating new patterns

If your child drinks sweetened juices and sodaS regularly, making the transition to healthier options can be challenging at first.

“Change can bring outbursts of anger and dissatisfaction, and right now, parents are at the end of their pandemic parenting lives,” says Jennifer Anderson, a Registered Dietitian and CEO of Kids Eat in Color, a resource dedicated to improving children’s nutrition and health through innovation Education and nutrition plans and tools.

“Kids can get used to drinking sugary drinks and they don’t want to give them up,” says Anderson.

One way to make the transition easier is to only have water and milk as options while your child is on their feet, a technique that works especially well for younger children, she says.

“That kind of ‘quiet constraint’ helps kids love the healthier option without feeling deprived,” she says.

“They’ll eventually learn about juice, soda, chocolate milk, sports drinks and more, but you can slow them down in learning about these foods if you rarely or don’t serve them at home.”

This technique worked well for Jariana Jimenez, a homemaker and Herbalife distributor.

She hasn’t had soda or juice in her home since her kids (ages 7 and 3) were babies, and they now see it as “the norm,” says Jimenez, 31.

But modeling the habits you want your children to adopt is also an important factor.

“Kids are sponges,” says Jimenez. “What we say and do, they will repeat.”

Never late

But what if your children are a bit older or your family is already used to sweetened drinks?

It’s not too late for the change, says Fausel, who has two children aged 8 and 6.

“You can help your kids make healthy choices no matter what age they are, and that can help them develop a taste for less sugar and healthier drinks and foods,” she says.

“This foundation will serve them for the rest of their lives.”

So how do you make the transition?

Try different techniques such as B. Weaning your kids from sugary drinks, suggests Anderson.

For example, parents can try adding a splash of fruit or vegetable juice to their children’s water, or less sweetening of sodas and teas.

“As your child becomes accustomed to less sweetness, water may become more appealing to them and your child may already be drinking less sugar.”

But most importantly, you choose a method that works best for your family.

“Maybe you’re a ‘rip-off-the-plaster’ family, in which case go for it! Make sure you find substitutes for fun drinks your family enjoys so no one feels unduly disadvantaged,” Anderson says.

Another thing to keep in mind, calling sugary drinks “bad” can be confusing for some kids.

Instead, you could explain the health factors associated with sugary drinks, Anderson says.

“The bacteria in our mouth eat sugar, and then they release acid, which causes cavities in our teeth,” she says.

Making these big changes to your kids’ drinking habits may sound exhausting, but it may not be as difficult as you think.

“Kids adapt, that’s the beauty of it,” says Jimenez.

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